Thursday, September 8, 2016

Roosevelt Institute Becoming Clinton's Go-To Think Tank?

The liberal think tank Roosevelt Institute has gained enormous influence during the past year as more and more are taking their work seriously amid an increased focuses on inequality and progressive politics.

Here is more from the New York Times Magazine:
Felicia Joy Wong runs the Roosevelt Institute, a small think tank (for lack of a better term) that originated in trusts established to promote the legacies of Franklin and Eleanor.  Its chief economist, the Nobel laureate Joseph Stiglitz, indirectly coined the Occupy movement's enduring slogan ("We are the 99 percent"), and Stiglitz and Wong each saw the election as an opportunity to channel Occupy energy into national politics.
...Unlike the myriad other white papers that each week were drafted, edited, somnolently received at other think tanks and shelved without fanfare, this report [Rewriting the Rules of the American Economy] had captured wide and consequential attention.  In the months leading up to its publication, the Roosevelt team was in close touch with Clinton's speechwriters and advisers, and in subsequent rallies the candidate continued to draw upon the report, even at the level of explicit language; calls to "rewrite the rules" found their way into more of her addresses.  The many news reports that linked the speech to Wong's organization consistently and erroneously relocated her team to Washington.  (Their headquarters are in Midtown Manhattan, in an Art Deco tower in the shadow of the Citigroup Center.)
Roosevelt is a 501(c)(3), and though it does maintain a political-action arm, it does not work to elect specific candidates.  Still, various representatives from Clinton's speechwriting and policy teams regularly solicit the organization's input.  Roosevelt in turn has redoubled its efforts not only on advancing the ideas in "Rewriting the Rules" but also in recruiting the personnel necessary to carry them out, in the form of a methodical effort to find suitable candidates for economic positions in a future presidential administration.

Here is more about Ms. Wong:
[Felicia Joy] Wong really does seem like an improbable person to preside over a think tank.  She grew up in Silicon Valley, studies poetry at Stanford, got a Ph.D. in political science at Berkeley, worked as a high-school teacher and then at a valley start-up and then happened into a job at the Democracy Alliance, a semi-secretive club of progressive donors.  She can barely bring herself to utter the phrase "think tank," much less "policy shop."  Late one evening in Washington, we walked by a thickset monolith that glowed with cold marmoreal light, as if James Turrell had built a fortress for some paranoid ice king.  The front read CSIS: the Center for Strategic and International Studies.  Wong rolled her eyes, theatrically shuddered and tucked her runaway hair behind her ear.  "Now that's a think tank."

On Roosevelt Institute vs. Center for American Progress:
On the left, there are lots of small organizations in Washington that publish granular research on specific economic trends.  But the most significant liberal think tank in recent years has been the Center for American Progress, founded in 2003 by former Bill Clinton chief of staff (and current Hillary Clinton campaign chair) John Podesta as his party's answer to the conservative Heritage Foundation.  CAP has done a lot of innovative policy work, especially on universal preschool and health care, but it was always less of a research organization than a shadow government for an opposition in exile.  When Obama was elected, roughly a third of CAP's staff went into his administration.  (Today, CAP's economic ideas are more in line with those of Roosevelt, and in 2015 it released a report on short-termism that anticipated part of "Rewriting the Rules.")

On How Roosevelt Institute has changed in the Obama era:
In 2009, a political scientist named Andrew Rich, known for writing about the "war of ideas," was drafted to reinvent the Roosevelt Institute as a place for the radical thinking that postcrisis politics seemed to require.  Roosevelt at the time was an ad hoc collection of spare progressive parts, including the upkeep of the F.D.R. Library in Hyde Park, N.Y.  Rich believed that if you weren't in Washington, and you weren't beholden to the party apparatus, and if you got the right people - people who were too idiosyncratic or rough-hewn for academia, or academics who wanted to be politically relevant bu needed help with finding an audience for their work - you could crate a new kind of institution on a looser, livelier model.  Rich brought on [Joseph] Stiglitz and Mike Konczal, who pseudonymous financial-crisis blog had a cult following among progressives

On Roosevelt Institute ties to Elizabeth Warren:
Elizabeth Warren is a key Roosevelt ally.  While Warren worked on the TARP oversight panel, she needed somewhere to park her aide-decamp, Dan Geldon, to help draft the details on the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau that was being set up on the basis of her ideas.  He served as a fellow, and he and Warren maintain close ties to Roosevelt.

On the think tank's recruitment efforts & "Rewriting the Rules":
When Wong took over in 2012, she continued to recruit staff members and fellows who were at once nonaligned and well connected: to the A.F.T. and S.E.I.U., Demos, MoveOn, the Clintons.  By January 2015, Wong had decided, along with her communications director, Marcus Mrowka, and her vice president of research and policy, Nell Abernathy, to prepare for the coming election by creating a full-dress economic agenda that would be there for the candidates' taking.  "Rewriting the Rules" got funding from the Ford Foundation, whose decision last year to refocus around the issues of inequality was influenced by Roosevelt...While written by Stiglitz, the paper was worked out in consultation with labor officials, academics, congressional staff members and - unusually for a think tank - advocates from places like Color for Change, Naral and the Black Civic Engagement Fund.

On Roosevelt Institute vs. Heritage Foundation:
In July, The Boston Globe reported that Roosevelt had been leading a campaign to help staff the economic-policy positions in future presidential administrations.  Since the 1970s, movement conservatism has consistently outperformed progressives in laying a talent conduit.  Heritage identifies young candidates and grooms them for a smooth climb through the system; adjacent to its headquarters is a library-dorm for its interns, replete with piles of free Hayek.  Roosevelt's project, likewise, is about finding people with the economic, legal and regulatory experience to change the country's balance of power.

The report "Rewriting the Rules" can be found here.  And here is a previous Think Tank Watch piece on how the think tank has been trying to influence Clinton's cabinet picks.

Also, here is a Politico article on how the think tank in helping draft a blacklist of prospective Clinton hires.  Among those already on the blacklist include Tom Nides (now Chairman of the Board of Trustees at the Wilson Center) and Lael Brainard (formerly of Brookings).